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THIS week is Diabetes UK’s annual UK-wide awareness and fundraising week, with patients around the nation being encouraged to help improve people’s knowledge of the condition.
Figures are on the rise, with hundreds of thousands of people having picked up the condition without even knowing about it.
Mail News Editor IAN WILLIS was diagnosed with the condition in the summer of 2000, and has been insulin-dependent ever since.
“TAKE this letter to the hospital, they’re expecting you in the next half hour.”
Those were the words from my doctor as he thrust a piece of paper in my hand, one of those where it’s full of long words that you can’t pronounce, with bits of GP scrawl dotted around it.
I’d been referred to see my doctor after some results picked up during a blood sample taken during a medical I had shortly after starting a new job.
Looking back now, I’d had all the signs of having contracted diabetes, though I always seemed to have an excuse.
Yes, I’d lost quite a bit of weight over a short period of time. But I was playing five-a-side after work three times a week, and going to the gym quite a bit.
Yes, I was always thirsty. Often so thirsty, driving home from work I would stop at a garage and neck a couple of cans of Coke despite knowing I’d be home in less than five minutes. Every night, I’d take a two-litre bottle of lemonade to bed, which had been drained by the next morning.
That’ll be all the execrise I’m doing.
Yes, I was up and down to the toilet frequently during the night. But wouldn’t you be if you couldn’t stop drinking?
Yes, I was tired a lot, sometimes struggling to keep my eyes open at the tea table. That’ll be because I’m up and down to the toilet half a dozen times a night, I’m not sleeping properly.
It was a vicious circle, but there was an answer for everything. That was until I was given the results of a blood sugar test there was no getting away from the fact that I was diabetic.
The usual blood sugar reading for a healthy, non-diabetic is somewhere between 4 and 7. If you’re up in the mid-teens, things are looking a bit dodgy.
Amongst the long words and doctor’s scrawl on my bit of paper, I could see my reading was 31.7.
Things happened quite quickly after that, and within a day I was fully-equipped with my own blood sugar testing kit, as well as little strips which told me if there were any traces of sugar in my urine. I was given a little notebook which allowed me to write down my readings, so when I had an appointment the experts could see how I was controlling things.
The most important thing in my new personal medical collection was my insulin pen, which remains the most vital part of my daily routine.
Without it, I’m snookered. Four injections a day, without exception, and regular monitoring of my condition.
Diabetes is a condition where the amount of glucose in the blood is too high because the body cannot use it properly. This is because the pancreas does not produce any insulin, or not enough, to help glucose enter the body.
I check my sugar levels each day, if they’re too high then I’ll do a higher dosage of insulin at my next injection time, if they’re too low then I’ll have a sugary snack to give me a boost.
It’s a bit like a balancing act, if you drop too low and don’t act quickly then there’s a danger of falling into a coma.
If you’re too high, then it’s back to the thirst, tiredness and frequent toilet visits through the night again like I was pre-diagnosis.
I didn’t really know anything about diabetes, nobody in my family has ever had it and my only experience was remembering a kid at school when I was about nine who wasn’t allowed to have chocolate when we went on school trips.
But when you’ve got it, it’s amazing how quickly you learn.
Diabetes is a lifelong condition, so unless there are developments in the medical world in the future, it looks like I’ll be using the pen for a good while longer.
It all sounds quite daunting, but to be honest, it’s not. You just have to adapt to a new routine.
For a lad in his mid-20s, as I was at the time of diagnosis, I can think of worse things to get.
I truly hope that doesn’t sound blase, because there’s no getting away from the fact it is a serious condition.
My eyesight is at risk, the chances of me having a a heart attack suddenly increases, I’m at risk of a stroke, my kidneys might pack up and if I don’t do things properly and pick up some sort of infection in my feet then they may have to be amputated.
But with good control, and regular checks, then the warning signs can be quickly spotted and acted upon.
Cut down on the chocolate, the junk food, the excessive alcohol, the cigarettes. Choose the diet or sugar-free drinks, don’t lash the butter on your toast because your cholestorol could rocket.
The general advice for a diabetic is pretty much the same advice a doctor would give anyone wanting to change to a healthy lifestyle.
It’s not rocket science, and once you accept you’re diabetic then you’ll get on with things.
Around 2.8m people in the UK have diabetes, either Type 1 like me, or Type 2 which can be controlled by tablets and in some cases without the need for insulin.
Alarmingly, 850,000 people who have the condition but don’t know it. Just a couple of years ago that figure was 750,000.
What will it be a couple of years from now?
I’m not a diabetes expert by any stretch of the imagination. I’m not a preacher either.
But if anyone reading this is sitting there thinking “that could be me”, then I’d advise a trip to the doctors. No excuses.
NORTH Tees and Hartlepool NHS Trust offers a high-quality service for patients suffering from diabetes.
Specialist nurses are based at the University Hospital of Hartlepool, in Holdforth Road, while ‘one-stop shop style’ services are also available for patients within the One Life Centre, in Park Road.
XXXX patients from within the trust area have been diagnosed with diabetes, and the specialist teams are constantly on call to offer advice and support.
A spokeswoman for the North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Trust said: “Most people who are diagnosed with diabetes look after the condition themselves with the support of their GP and practice.
“However when things become complex - the drugs or dietary advice given is not keeping the diabetes under control or the person has a number of other medical conditions which is making their diabetes difficult to live with - the GP will refer in to the diabetes team at the University Hospital of Hartlepool.
“Patients are seen by a consultant or senior doctor at the first visit then they will spend time with a diabetes specialist nurse who will work with them to get the condition under control. This includes looking at different drugs and the way they are taken; everything from tablets, regular injections to insulin pumps.
“The emphasis is very much on supporting and teaching people to gain control of their diabetes. An education programme, DESMOND (diabetes education ,self management - ongoing and newly diagnosed) gives patients the information they need to understand diabetes, to spot the signs that things are going wrong and to take action quickly to prevent things becoming more serious.
“One Life Hartlepool North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust’s community service provides annual retinal screening and a foot clinic. At this one stop shop patients also have their blood pressure checked and blood tested. All this information is then given back to the GP and can be discussed at the next appointment.”
DENICE O’Rourke was diagnosed with diabetes six years ago, and is now heavily involved in helping others across Hartlepool and east Durham cope with the condition.
Denice, a 44-year-old married mum-of-two from the Park Road area of town, is the secretary of the Hartlepool Diabetic Group.
The group hosts two meetings a month at the Central Library, and up to 30 people attend each session.
Denice said: “We’re here to help people, and we get a lot of support from the health professionals who come to our meetings.
“We aren’t professionally qualified, but what we find is that it is a good way of sharing ideas. Someone may have had a problem that they weren’t sure how to deal with, and another person may have the answers for them.
“We also have an active social side to the club, where we arrange events and raise cash for the diabetes team at the hospital.”
Denice admits to being “shocked” when she was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, but has quickly learned how to deal with the condition.
She added: “There are a lot of misconceptions about diabetes, people think straight away they will have to inject themselves with huge needles and syringes, but that isn’t the case.
“I was shocked when I found out I had it, as I had been having tests for something else.
“But once you get to grips with it, the facilities in Hartlepool are fantastic.
“There is a dedicated team at the hospital which is always on the end of the phone, and at the new One Life Centre people with diabetes can have all of their appointments at the same time so they’re not back and forwards to the doctors all the time.”
For more information about the Hartlepool Diabetic Group, call (01429) 269492.
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WHAT IS DIABETES
TYPE 1 diabetes develops when the insulin-producing cells in the body have been destroyed and the body is unable to produce any insulin.
Insulin is the key that unlocks the door to the body’s cells. Once the door is unlocked glucose can enter the cells where it is used as fuel. In Type 1 diabetes the body is unable to produce any insulin so there is no key to unlock the door and the glucose builds up in the blood.
Type 1 diabetes accounts for between five and 15 per cent of all people with diabetes and is treated by daily insulin injections, a healthy diet and regular physical activity.
Type 2 diabetes develops when the body can still make some insulin, but not enough, or when the insulin that is produced does not work properly.
Type 2 diabetes usually appears in people over the age of 40, though in South Asian and black people, who are at greater risk, it often appears from the age of 25.
This form of the condition accounts for between 85 and 95 per cent of all people with diabetes and is treated with medication.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS
*Passing urine more often than usual, especially at night
*Unexplained weight loss
*Genital itching or regular episodes of thrush
*Slow healing of cuts and wounds
ANYONE with worries or concerns about diabetes can contact the Diabetes UK careline on 0845 1202960